Obama’s Israel trip on HuffPost Live.

I was on HuffPost Live this morning, talking about President Obama’s visit to Israel — he arrives tomorrow at noon, if memory serves. We discussed what we expect to see during the trip, what we’d like to see, and if there’s even any real point to the trip or, in fact, trying to do anything about Israel/Palestine peace at all.

So! If you’d like to see that discussion, click here. This time, I start right at the very beginning, and though it looks like I’m wearing a fetching cherry-red lipstick, my lips are, in fact, adorned with nothing but Carmex. Lighting!

Found words, tucked into a used book.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Citrus_x_limon_-_K%C3%B6hler%E2%80%93s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-041.jpgAbout ten or eleven years ago, my friend Shaun came on a visit from London. He was reading Andrea Levy’s Fruit of the Lemon at the time, and he left it for me — and a decade or more later, I finally read it, this week. Levy won all kinds of accolades when Lemon was published back in 1999, and with good reason, because it’s a really lovely piece of work. It feels a little like two separate novels to me, but not so much as to make it any less lovely to read. If you have room on the pile of books next to your bed, I would highly recommend adding Fruit of the Lemon to it.

But this isn’t about that!

This is about the card that was left in the book, I have no idea by whom, and I have no idea when or where.

It’s not Shaun’s, and if memory serves (and it really might not) Shaun had gotten the book second-hand. But what is written on said card is simply so random — so much as if ripped from the story line of a different novel, possibly something like Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca — that I simply had to share.

Picture a plain white card, a little bigger than an index card. In the upper right corner, in fancy type face, you’ll see the words “Simply Ionian,” with a little travel stamp overlapping that reads “Simply Travel.” A quick Google search reveals that this must be a note card provided guests by Thomson Holiday’s Simply Travel division, specializing in “off-the-beaten-track holidays – characterful, one-off properties squirreled away on the road less travelled.”

Below what looks like a phone number and room location (“Panorama No. 7”), here’s what the card says:

Dear Dr. Winsor & Ms. Wheater & baby,

Welcome to Lefkas! I shall be around to visit you at 7:00 pm tomorrow evening. I would like to meet you at the ‘Café Del Mar’, which is situated as you bear left towards the beach from your apartments. I look forward to our meeting. Many thanks.


I ask you! Is this not a novel in the making?

If you write that novel, please thank me in the acknowledgements. You can list me under “Muse.”

An alternative itinerary for Obama’s Israel trip.


Obama on his previous trip to Israel, in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mishkanot Sha’ananim – which is not at all far from Misedet Ima.

President Obama will arrive in Israel next Wednesday, only to have to leave again on Friday. In that rather slim stretch of time, he will (among other things): attend formal receptions; lay wreathes at graves; discuss Syria, Iran, and negotiations with the Palestinians; venture into the Palestinian Authority to meet with President Abbas and visit the Church of the Nativity; tour an exhibit of Israeli technological innovations, a model of ancient Jerusalem, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (all blessedly at the same museum); visit a battery of the U.S.-funded Iron Dome anti-missile system; and give a public speech (per Ynet, “the Americans have requested the presence of at least 1,000 Israelis”).

Other than the big speech and Iron Dome review, this is—in essence and particulars—the Standard Trip. It’s the same trip taken by virtually every foreign dignitary to ever land at Ben Gurion Airport, a trip designed to make powerful people feel that they’ve been seen, and regular people feel that their culture has been respected. Alas, the Standard Trip has nearly nothing to do with the lives of actual Palestinians or Israelis.

I’m painfully aware that there’s nothing to be done about this. Diplomatic protocol, time constraints, and security concerns are such that, indeed, the Standard Trip tends to steer well clear of actual lives.

But in my ideal world, Obama would pull up a chair at Jerusalem’s Misedet Ima (“Mom’s Restaurant”), order the best kubeh soup he’s ever likely to encounter (I personally prefer the kubeh matfunyah, but the kubeh khamustah is delightful as well), and just talk with folks.

I’d like the President to talk with the brave Israeli women facing down the state in the name of religious freedom; I’d like him to talk with the brave Palestinian activists facing down the occupation with nonviolence.

I’d like him to ask Palestinian day laborers who now ride segregated buses why some of them like the new lines, and Israeli human rights activists why they’re protesting anyway. It might be that no Palestinians would be allowed into Jerusalem to have this conversation—perhaps Obama could ask someone why it’s so hard for Palestinians to get anywhere, within the West Bank or into Israel.

I’d particularly like the President to speak with people like Bassam Aramin, whose 10-year-old daughter was shot by Israeli security forces, and Elik Elhanan, whose 14–year-old sister was killed by a Palestinian terrorist. Both men were once combatants in this horrible war, but both laid down arms in favor of pursuing a just peace through organizations like the Palestinian-Israeli Bereaved Families Forum and Combatants for Peace.

But I’d also like Obama to speak to settlers who believe that their maximalist dreams cannot now be undone, and Palestinians for whom all talk of a two-state solution is now anathema. I’d frankly even like him to sit down with Hamas, because I want the American President to really hear just what the two-state solution—the very solution he and his Administration support—is up against, how many true believers stand poised to make such a peace agreement impossible.

Starting, in my opinion, with the Prime Minister. With the soup gone (and maybe some stuffed grape leaves too), I’d ask Obama to speak frankly with Netanyahu about the many and varied ways he and his government have worked to bring about the failure of any attempts the White House might ever make toward peace. I’d ask Netanyahu to explain why the Jerusalem of which he speaks so forcefully bears so little resemblance to the Jewish people’s actual holy city.

And then I’d like the President to load up the cars and take a short drive over to Israel’s Security Barrier.

It’s true that on his way to meet Abbas and then back from Bethlehem, Obama will see the Wall (it’s 25 feet tall in Jerusalem and currently 305 miles long, so it’s hard to miss) but there’s nothing quite like standing in the shadows and trying to imagine 25 feet of towering concrete slicing through your own town, your own farm, your own family.

As things stand, nearly every part of the President’s trip could be achieved with good WiFi and a friend to lay the wreathes (seriously: click here for the Dead Sea Scrolls;click here for the model of ancient Jerusalem).

But getting to hear the stories of people who live every day with the heartbreaking reality created in no small part by American inaction, and then simply bearing witness at the base of what serves as the single best metaphor for the entire conflict—that’s the kind of thing that requires one’s actual presence.

I hope the President’s advance team is doing at least some of this in his stead. And that someone gets him take-away from Ima’s.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

How to put the Ethiopian-Israeli birth control controversy to rest.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flickr_-_Government_Press_Office_(GPO)_-_Ethiopian_immigrant_women_celebrating_the_Sigad_holiday.jpgLast week Haaretz corrected its reporting of a story I covered in these pages: Ethiopian-Israeli women have been saying for years that they’ve been injected with Depo-Provera (long-acting birth control) by state-mandated health providers without their informed consent. That story—recently investigated by Israeli television and carried by many other sources in addition to Haaretz—led to global controversy, including scattered and unfounded accusations of sterilization and/or genocide.

Under a headline that read “Israel admits Ethiopian women were given birth control shots,” Haaretz wrote on January 27 that:

A government official has for the first time acknowledged the practice of injecting women of Ethiopian origin with the long-acting contraceptive Depo-Provera. Health Ministry Director General Prof. Roni Gamzu has instructed the four health maintenance organizations to stop the practice as a matter of course.

The next day, I wrote, “On Sunday it was reported that Israel has finally admitted to systematically depressing the fertility of the Ethiopian immigrant community…”

Haaretz followed up on February 28, reporting that the Health Ministry was launching an investigation into the practice, and last Wednesday appended a correction to that piece:

The original version [of this story] failed to state that [Gamzu’s] instruction was issued “without taking a stand or determining facts about allegations that had been made.

The upshot of this is that Haaretz made a mistake in its January report, one which I then replicated: The state didn’t “admit,” nor did a government official “acknowledge,” any responsibility for the allegations being made by the immigrants.

It is of course important to correct the impression that Israel acknowledged playing a role in this story, and as such, whether these events were systematic or haphazard is as yet unclear. If investigation reveals that there was no systematic effort, I will happily say so. If I’d known that the government had not acknowledged playing a role, I would’ve written my own post a little differently: “The government has acknowledged no fault, but activists and immigrants report that…,” for example.

The more important news here, though, is the actual reason for Haaretz’s follow-up—the Health Ministry investigation:

The [investigation] will check the reports that the women were given Depo-Provera shots to prevent pregnancy—often against their will and without being informed of potential side effects—in what was an allegedly deliberate effort to reduce births in the Ethiopian immigrant community.

The committee is being set up at the instruction of [Deputy Health Minister] Litzman, who had earlier denied that the phenomenon existed, after it was revealed by an Educational Television documentary by journalist Gal Gabai in early December.

Some followers of news out of Israel have seen last Wednesday’s correction as a vindication, suggesting that the entire story can now be seen as little more than an anti-Israel smear advanced by bad actors, and that potentially irreversible damage has been done to Israel because Haaretz wrote that a government office admitted to something to which it did not, in fact, admit—as if an official admission of culpability is the only valid source for the information at hand.

What these people are failing to note is that the source of the controversy is not one mistaken mischaracterization by one news source—the source of the controversy is the women themselves. As I wrote in January, many, many Ethiopian-Israeli women report being threatened or lied to about the Depo-Provera injections: “We didn’t want it,” one woman is quoted as saying in the February 28 article. “We refused and objected. We said we didn’t want to.” (More such comments can be seen herehereand here).

Thus, while accuracy is always important in reporting and Haaretz was right to issue the correction, what we really have here is a classic case of vulnerable citizens complaining of governmental abuse, their government denying that abuse, and a group of observers privileging the government’s version of events over that of the people complaining. It is precisely these kinds of stories that we pay journalists to cover; that’s why we call journalism the fourth estate.

We are right, of course, to take issue with those who characterized this story as one of forced sterilization or genocide. Controlling a woman’s fertility with long-term contraceptive drugs without informed consent is a terrible thing, but it’s a long way from forced sterilization.

But unless and until it’s established that the immigrants in question are lying, I will listen to the many women who say they were frightened or misled into accepting the administration of Depo-Provera. It’s my opinion that the stories of real women’s lives damaged by the acts of a few people in positions of power are more important than one newspaper’s (corrected) mistake.

If Israel wants to see this controversy put to rest, it will investigate these deeply troubling allegations thoroughly, and address any issues raised with transparency.

Here’s the other thing about how writers are paid.

Typewriter keyboardThe current discussion/mudslinging about how writers/journalists/reporters (etc) are or are not paid is, I think, important, enlightening, and long overdue. I made my own wee contribution here; here’s National Treasure Charlie Pierce saying it better. I agree with every single thing Mr. Pierce wrote, up until his last six words — I can’t tell The Atlantic to “go fk itself,” because I don’t think The Atlantic is the problem, and as one of the few magazines out there with a working business model and growing staff, it may well be part of the solution.

Having said that, whenever we have this discussion, there’s this one wee thing that no one ever seems to mention, and it’s something that actually has an enormous impact on any writer’s bank balance: With every passing year, the writer is expected to do more.

Not more writing (eta: actually, in the era of ever-updating blogs, we’re also expected to write more, now that I think of it), and God knows not more reporting (“reporting” might require plane tickets or recording equipment, and those, God knows, cost money), but more of all the work surrounding the final product.

In the course of slashing budgets and caring more for corporate bottom lines than for content produced and/or what the advent of the Internet might mean for same, news and opinion outlets have hacked away at their editorial and graphics departments, their marketing and their fact-checking — virtually everything and anything that supports a writer/reporter in his or her work and produces a highly-polished and attractive final product.

Writers have always had to market ourselves, of course, particularly when starting out, but nothing like today, when it’s often considered part and parcel of the gig to not only produce copy, but also to blog about producing copy, tweet/FB/tumbl about the copy you produced, and engage with commenters over their opinions of the copy you produced, all while working on your next piece.

Writers have also always been asked to turn in clean copy — the cleaner, the better — but we used to write safe in the knowledge that copy editors would catch the typos, and editors would catch the sentences that went nowhere. These days, far too many Serious Outlets are content to let writers fend for themselves, typos and unintelligible run-on sentences be damned.

Writers have also always been expected to actually do their work and be as rigorously truthful as humanly possible — but again, no one is perfect, and some writers are lying assclowns. So, you know: Fact-checking, the process by which a Serious Outlet would make at least a minimal effort to determine that the writer had not Gotten It All Wrong was a pretty important task. In the current environment, far too many Serious Outlets expect writers to fact-check on their own (and, one presumes, to give the managing editor a head’s up if they’re going to lie).

Finally, in addition to reporting, writing, promoting ourselves day-in/day-out, and typing and fact-checking without a net, there are also a long list of outlets (less Serious than some, but still Kinda Serious) that expect their writers to find illustration for their work, as well. AND MAKE SURE IT ISN’T COPYRIGHTED.

And, of course, the many, many of us who aren’t on staff are also doing all of our own bookkeeping and if we are lucky enough to be paid? It’s on us to remind the Serious Outlet to fork over our dough. Often over and over and over again. Because accounting departments were slashed, too.

All of these things take a tremendous amount of time and energy, and sometimes financial resources. All of it comes from my bottom line.

And all of it is part and parcel of the modern day write-for-free model everywhere present in the publishing world.

The right not to be raped is a human right.

This past week saw up-and-coming political pundit and progressive activist Zerlina Maxwell talking about rape, her own status as a rape survivor, and the fact that women shouldn’t have to carry guns in order to not be raped — because boys and men should be taught not to rape in the first place. This is not a new topic for Zerlina (see her excellent “Stop Telling Women How Not to Get Raped”), and she’s not a stranger to backlash.

However, last week the discussion was on television, which gives it much greater kick, and any conversation about guns adds an entire new layer of intensity to the process, and pretty much immediately after she was off the air, Zerlina began to be inundated with rape threats, death threats, racist slurs, and often a combination of all three, across all the various social media platforms. (You can read more about how it’s played out by clicking here to read the reaction of Josh Marshall over at TPM). I’ve tried to be supportive of Zerlina as the week has unrolled, and I’ve tried to help spread the word that her experience is very, very far from unique.

Today I kind of summed of what I’ve been saying all week on Twitter, and I just want to be on the record as saying here what I said there:

Do we want to prevent teen pregnancies? Or shame teen mothers?

New York City has recently seen some really awful ads directed at shaming teens into pregnancy prevention, ads which by and large (though not entirely) ignore the fact that, as I’ve mentioned before, pregnancy requires sperm, and in most cases, sperm is delivered via human male. The ensuing online conversation has reminded me of a piece I ran in the Chicago Tribune in September 2008 about these same issues, so I thought I’d post the piece here. You’ll note that my references to pop culture (and the 2008 Presidential campaign) are a tad dated now, but the problem itself is not.


teen pregnancy adsAMERICA is awash with the news that, wait for it: Teenagers get pregnant.

From the fictional worlds of the movie “Juno” and the TV series “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” to the reality-based worlds of celebrity and politics — with the odd, if phantom, working-class pregnancy “pact” thrown in for good measure — American society has suddenly noticed that kids occasionally become parents. Which, we surmise, must mean they have sex.

These are not facts with which American society has ever been particularly comfortable.

Typically, our response has been either: Woe-is-me-the-sky-is-falling! or What-a-bunch-of-stupid-sluts. Or both. (It goes without saying that the males involved are only rarely called to account. We know who Jamie Lynn is, but, pop quiz: Can you name the baby daddy?)

We’ve condemned girls and parents. We’ve compacted their struggles and imperfections into talking points or mean-spirited punch lines. We’ve read commentary suggesting that young girls are stupid enough to willfully follow in the fertile footsteps of fictional characters or wealthy actresses.

In the course of this “discourse,” teen sex and pregnancy are reduced to a series of bifurcated judgment calls. We demand that decision-makers and media oracles respond instantly to all of it, neither encouraging nor allowing time for reflection — and woe betide any who change their minds over time. No, we want an opinion, we want it in black-or-white, and we want it in stone.

As unambiguous as we might wish the subject were, though, the reality of teen sex and pregnancy won’t go away just because some want it to. It isn’t laughable. And it’s not really news.

The hormonal imperative to reproduce has been getting young Americans in trouble since before there was an America: As many as a third of colonial brides were pregnant at the time of the Revolution, according to several historical sources, and possibly more than a third of births were out of wedlock.

What has changed, though, is birth control. The modern day fairly bristles with it.

Among sexually active 15- to 19-year-olds, 83 percent of girls and 91 percent of boys report using contraception — possibly explaining the 34 percent drop in teen birth rates between 1991 and 2005, according to the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

Yet the recent reversal of that trend (teen births have since risen 3 percent) reminds us that we must never relax our efforts at education. Every single kid has to be given the necessary information and urged to be smart, even when hormones scream.

Getting pregnant young is a tough thing. Carrying a baby and raising the child is hard work; giving one up is, for many, even harder. And though I support reproductive choice, it can’t be argued that abortion is a cakewalk either. I know — and I was an adult when I had mine.

And abstinence programs just don’t work: A 2004 study by Yale and Columbia Universities found that fully 88 percent of those who pledge abstinence have premarital sex anyway.

So we’re left with birth control, and information. And kindness, and compassion.

Again, and again (and again), we’ve got to tell kids that unprotected sex makes babies, and babies change lives. If they make youthful mistakes anyway, we need to be there to help them make wise decisions and keep their lives whole.

This isn’t easy. Planned Parenthood reports that 73 percent of teenage moms come from poor or low-income families; the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reports that some 80 percent of teen fathers don’t marry their children’s mothers — and that two-thirds of families started by single moms are poor.

We may not like these facts, but that’s what they are. Facts. And they don’t bode well for anyone: not the mothers, not the babies, not the country.

This is what we need to be talking about, not the moral fiber or relative philosophical consistency of this particular 16-year-old, or that political party. We need to be talking about, and dealing with, the facts.

Sadly, one of the people who recently had reason to face these facts publicly — Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin — has failed on this most basic front. She has expressed support for abstinence-only programs, and as Alaska’s governor, reduced funds for a program intended to house young mothers while they get the life skills they need to become successful adults.

Rather than focusing on the poor decisions or sheer bad luck of individual young women (famous or not), we need to give all teenagers all the tools they need to keep their lives on track; when the next girl falls pregnant anyway, we need to surround her with all the support — familial, societal, and governmental — she may need. Oh, and we should probably involve the fathers too.

Is teen pregnancy a good thing? No. But it happens, and every baby born should be given love and a good chance. Every single one. With a lot of dedication, it can work out.

Just look at Stanley Ann Dunham’s boy, Barry. He’s running for president.

Michael Oren’s formidible truthiness – an open letter to Stephen Colbert.


Don’t worry, Mr. Colbert – Michael Oren won’t ever be as splendiferous as you.

Dear Mr. Colbert,

As proud member of the Colbert Nation, I salute you, and I offer my kudos and a hearty huzzah for Tuesday night’s interview with the Ambassador of America’s BFF, Israel. Seeing you with Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren was not unlike seeing into the bed chamber of the most loving couple on God’s green earth—which was, I admit, a tad embarrassing, but Mr. Colbert, you know my love for you is pure.

Setting aside that rather arresting image however, if I had to narrow my sheer delight down to one thing, it would be this: Oren, for all his status and (one imagines) fancy dinner parties, has clearly chosen to take on the teachings of America’s most humble pundit and thoroughly embody the Colbert Creed of Truthiness: truth that’s from the gut, not books! Truth that (if I may quote the American Dialect Society of January 2006) reflects “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true”!

Thus, for instance, Oren was able to look you (the very Prophet of Truthiness!) straight in the eye and say “Israel doesn’t get involved in internal politics in the United States”—even though you had already gone to the metaphorical tape and reminded him of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s open support for President Obama’s competitor in the last elections (what was that guy’s name again?). “But Netanyahu wanted the other guy, that’s clear,” you said, and when Oren demurred, you doubled down: “It’s absolutely clear to anybody who’s got eyes in their skull, he wanted the other guy.” (It might be suggested that in this case, the student became the master and Oren pwned you in the truthiness stakes. But it will not be suggested by me, for I am loyal.)

And then—oh glory!—Oren’s performance as a Truthiness Acolyte shone out even above the tests you set for him! (They were just tests, right? You don’t really want people to use the eyes in their skulls?) “The Iranian leaders are every week threatening to wipe us off the map,” Oren said, “if they get these nuclear weapons.”

As a dual American-Israeli citizen, I can assure you: this is what the Israeli government feels to be true—it’s the concept Israel prefers to talk about rather than the facts that are known to be true! The facts, those silly, annoying things, tell us that Iran’s leaders don’t actually talk about building or using nuclear weapons. They talk about nuclear power, because if they talked about building weapons, U.S. bombers would likely take off for Tehran tomorrow.

Now, it’s true that nearly 12 years ago, then-Iranian President Rafsanjani suggested that in the case of a nuclear war with Israel, Iran would survive and Israel wouldn’t, but it’s also true in the meantime Rafsanjani has often denied that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, citing Ayatollah Khamenei’s fatwa against such weapons, none of which really lends itself to a serious assertion that “the Iranian leaders are every week threatening to…” etc, etc, etc. I would agree that common sense suggests that we take these words with a hefty grain of salt and continue to prepare for all eventualities—but that’s just the common sense talking. Don’t mind me.

Clearly Oren’s gut tells him that all this is much too nuanced for the American people, just as Americans can’t be trusted with the fact that Israel itself has nuclear weapons that everyone knows about but to which it refuses to cop. But as you said, we here at Colbert Nation will have Israel’s back with every single nuke to which it does admit! Duty shall not be shirked!

And yet, if I may, Mr. Colbert, Oren’s greatest moment actually came early in the conversation and went entirely unremarked by you—thus becoming truthiness in its purest form, because it went unchallenged.

Oren tossed off the notion that one of his government’s highest priorities is to “get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table”—and oh, the marvel of that statement!

Like the finest jazz, the beauty was in the notes that Oren didn’t play: The Israeli leaders under whom Oren has served these last several years have done virtually everything they can—from massive settlement construction, to incursions into what is ostensibly Palestinian-controlled territory, to all-out war, to vague threats of bringing down the Palestinian government—to ensure that such negotiations will be impossible to resume. Good will, schmood will! If we keep those Palestinians just angry and insecure enough (my Israeli government seems to think), they’ll never want to talk to us again! VICTORY!

Oh my, the whole interview was a marvel and a wonder, not unlike a brief foray into Paradise. I thank you, Mr. Colbert, and again: I salute you. Truthiness is as truthiness does, and clearly: Acolyte Oren does truthiness very, very well.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

On not paying for work done.

Typewriter keyboardI still have the aforementioned oddly fever-ish condition, so I’m not likely to be of much use today, but I wanted to say this:

A kerfuffle arose yesterday when a writer blogged about being offered to publish in The Atlantic Online in exchange for zero dollars; you, gentle reader, may or may not recall that these were the precise circumstances under which I wrote for The Atlantic Online, twice, about Troy Davis.

In his blog post, Nate Thayer sounds righteously annoyed, and I can’t say that I blame him. Work deserves recompense, full stop. I will confess to a small shudder of annoyance when the editor with whom I worked at The Atlantic told me that she couldn’t pay me, and I was honestly grateful for the tone of regret in her email — because though I was willing to accept zero dollars in exchange for my hard work, work deserves recompense, full stop.

I will also note that though I was pleased and quite proud to appear in The Atlantic, the fact of that byline has opened no doors, nor has it led to a single offer for paying work — when editors talk about the value of “exposure,” I can only hope that they’re ignorant of what a chimera that is. (It might have been the reason that Robert Wright knew my name, and thus may have played a role in our collaboration for The Atlantic during the recent war in Gaza, but I approached him and volunteered to work with him, knowing ahead of time that his publication wouldn’t be able to pay me and shrugging off his evident discomfort with that fact).

The fault is not with The Atlantic, though. This is a system that exists across platforms and across readership levels. Working in the creative fields has never been a path to wealth, but during the last decade or so, with the advent of an increasingly nimble internet and increasingly mordant outlets saddled with increasingly desperate business models, working in the creative fields hasn’t even necessarily been a decent way to keep yourself in rent and tacos. This has been especially so since the summer of 2008, when the cratering of print media presaged the cratering of the entire world economy.

The problem is so big, and reflective of so much social malaise, that I don’t know how to even start getting my brain around it. On the one hand, you have the consumers of culture who think they should never have to pay for anything (“information wants to be free!” or some such codswallop); on the other hand you’ve got corporate-owned producers of information and art that are more interested in paying CEOs and big shareholders than in paying the people who produce the information and the art; on the third hand you’ve got the rolling introduction of entirely new modes of information-transference that no one really knows how to make a living off of; on the fourth hand you’ve got editors and managing editors who are really struggling to tell important stories without the budget they honestly need; on the fifth hand, you’ve got an entire economy predicated on the rich getting richer while everyone else struggles to doggy-paddle; and on the sixth hand, you’ve got the producers of content themselves, those writers, photographers, reporters, artists, etc and so on, who do need to pay bills but for whom the product itself can sometimes feel even more important than bill-paying.

A few years ago I decided that I would never work for free again, with exceptions for cases wherein I felt that the story was more important than my taco budget — such was the case in all the work I prepared for The Atlantic, for instance. I have not stuck entirely by that decision (The Hairpin, which I presume makes some money, didn’t pay me, for example; Feministe, which I’m assuming does not, didn’t either), but in every case in which I’ve broken my word to myself, I was consciously taking a chance that in allowing my work to be undervalued, I might advance my career. In twenty years of occasionally taking that chance, I can think of exactly one case in which that proved true (not any of those mentioned here).

Aside from the obvious ethical implications of asking people to work hard in return for literally nothing, however, there is the not inconsiderable issue of what this means for your talent pool: I can occasionally write for free (and, indeed, can regularly write for peanuts) because I have a spouse with a good steady income. If I did not have said spouse, or said spouse were unemployed, or also a creative, I would be SOL. I can’t help but feel that a model that excludes people who cannot afford to not be paid isn’t a great one for expanding our knowledge base.

I don’t know how to fix this, and I do not blame the editors who have solicited or accepted my work without recompense. I think it would be a step in the right direction if publications could institute a system whereby such work could at least receive a small honorarium, as a kind of good-will nod to the fact that it’s actually not right to pay people nothing, but I understand that even $50 a pop would add up pretty quickly. The argument could be made that if you can’t pay people, maybe you shouldn’t publish — but again, that’s not on the editors. And when I hand over my copy for free, I know exactly what I’m doing.

So anyway. I don’t know how to fix it, and if I ever again have the chance to publish something that really matters to me in a prestigious publication that cannot pay me, I will take it.

But can we all, at the very least, admit that it’s wrong?

Segregated buses – they’re all the rage!

I was on HuffPost Live yesterday, talking with hosts Mike Sacks and Ahmed Shihab-Eldin and Palestinian nonviolent activist Fadi Quran about Israel’s decision to introduce segregated bus lines on the West Bank.

The lines are technically optional (though I pity the Palestinian who chooses to eschew them) and apparently welcomed by the laborers who generally have to struggle to get to work — and they’re really only for that small percentage of West Bank Palestinians who are lucky enough to have gotten work permits inside Israel in the first place. We also talked about a lot of the other manifestations of the occupation and if you ask me, if you’re looking for a quick mood enhancer, this probably isn’t it.

But yesterday was also a day off from school and it turned out I was coming down with a fever (pretty much no other symptoms – just the fever and related dull-headed achyness), so I never managed to post it (or anything else).

I will confess that I haven’t even watched it yet, because I’m a little worried I wasn’t making much sense. But if you would like to take that risk, click here. If you’re my mom: I start talking just after the 3 minute mark, I think.